NEW YORK—Roberto Caporuscio, chef and co-owner of two Neapolitan pizzerias in New York, has been living in the United States for decades, but he is still a keen follower of Italian politics. And even he’s perplexed by Italy’s upcoming referendum.
The sound of young people socializing in Italian drifted out the open doorway of Caporuscio’s restaurant, Don Antonio by Starita, in Midtown Manhattan. “It’s strange,” he said, leaning on the wall outside as he weighed in on the referendum.
In December, Italy will vote on a major constitutional reform set to end the so-called perfect bicameralism of the parliament. (Perfect bicameralism means that both Houses of the parliament have the same rights and powers). The reform aims to drastically decrease the power and reduce the size of the Senate, while the Chamber of Deputies will become the leading legislative body of the Republic.
Each of the 85,000 Italians registered with the Italian Consulate in New York are eligible to vote on this referendum in December. But in the last referendum—which would have repealed a law on offshore drilling—less than 20 percent of New York’s registered Italians went to the polls.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, from the Democratic Party, is campaigning for the voters to pass the reform, which will allow for a faster legislation process. The stakes are high for Renzi, who said he will resign if Italians vote against his proposal.
Caporuscio, 55, employs almost exclusively Italian managers and waiters, in order to create the “right environment” for his clientele. He was born in Pontinia, one hour away from Rome, and learned to make pizza in Naples. Along with managing two restaurants in New York City, he teaches Americans the art of pizza in intensive courses and workshops held in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York.
But Caporuscio still feels strong ties to Italy. The night he spoke with the New York Transatlantic, he hosted an “aperitivo” at his restaurant with Italians in New York, a not-for-profit social organization. Half of the night’s proceeds went to victims of the recent earthquake in Abruzzo.
Italians like Caporuscio are critical of Renzi’s proposal since he inherited his position in 2014 after the previous prime minister, Enrico Letta, resigned. Renzi was then the leader of the ruling Democratic Party, having won the party primaries in the meantime. Many Italians feel that Italy elected Letta to serve as prime minister, not Renzi.
“This government was not elected by the Italian citizens,” said Caporuscio, while stressing that he does not support any particular party. “The Senate as it is now is part of the original Italian political structure; that’s the way Italy was established. I would vote against the reform.”
A few days later, Italian Minister of Education Stefania Giannini, in town to discuss pending educational reforms, also addressed the referendum in a talk at New York University’s Casa Italiana. “The constitutional architecture has to be modernized,” she said. “Italy has been waiting for this change for more than 20 years.”
In the audience were Italian students and faculty members of New York University, as well as young professionals not linked to the institution.
Natasha Rovo, 28, said she wants to vote for the reform. She is a PhD candidate in economics at Rome’s LUISS Guido Carli, now interning at the New York branch of Bank of Italy.
“Renzi’s Democratic Party has its flaws, but this is a reform that needs to be approved. It’s going to accelerate the legislation process,” she said.
Rovo acknowledged that the stakes are high: “We need to overcome the perfect bicameralism of the parliament, but there is a risk of giving absolute power to the ruling party. We need to preserve the opposition, because laws are created through debates.”
“I’m not a great supporter of Renzi, but the content of this reform is positive. I believe that the reform will pass,” said Laura Loguercio, 20, a philosophy student at the University of Milan, in New York for a three-month journalism internship at the UN-based La Voce di New York.
Loguercio thinks that Renzi made a mistake when he threatened to resign if the referendum doesn’t go his way. “He shifted the discussion from ‘for or against the reform,’ to ‘for or against Renzi.’”
Working in New York has offered a new perspective on the job industry to Loguercio, who dreams of working as a foreign correspondent for her country.
“Here the work industry is run as a meritocracy, workers are rewarded for what they do,” she said. “I see my friends here getting so many jobs offers, they have to turn them down,” she added, something she said she had never heard of in Italy.
Yet, New York Italians are not united in anxiously awaiting the referendum result. For some, their lives in New York have become more relevant than their lives back home.
At Don Antonio, Andrea Paone was preparing an Aperol Spritz, one of Italy’s most popular aperitif cocktails. Paone, 27, moved to New York from the Latina area, less than two hours away from Rome, and now works as a barman at the pizzeria.
Back home, Paone used to work in the fashion industry. “There, you work hard and don’t get anything back. Working in New York is a rewarding experience, it allows you to grow and move to higher positions. I started off as a waiter and now I’m a barman.”
“I didn’t know there was going to be a referendum in Italy,” Paone said. “My only connection with Italy now are my Facebook friends.”
Photo: Courtesy of Don Antonio by Starita